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Theatre Inventory Management

Where do I start ?
Setting up an inventory is a big project and takes a lot of time, planning and money.  This Tutorial is designed to help you with your planning, proposal writing and implementation of your project.
Every theatre project takes money and creating an inventory can take money that you may not have in your regular budget.  So, along with the steps to create an inventory project there are things to write down to help you create a proposal for funding - either from your school, booster club or an arts agency that has grants.
There are 7 steps to the project.  For each step look for the "Ask yourself", "Gather Data" and "Write this down" icons to help you be the most prepared you can be.
1.  What is your goal or motivation for inventorying your collection?

Ask yourself - Is it to ...

•Get organized to make better use of your costumes and props/sets?

•Generate revenue from rentals?

•Your theatre director or principal is requiring you do it?


•Teach your students a new skills?



Recognize your goals – make your goals known so it is easier to get the funding, equipment and support you need.

Write down at least 3 goals of inventorying your costumes, props, equipment.
Start planning your project

Recognize that this is a “PROJECT”.  Like any project it should have:


1)  A Planning Phase

2)  A Budget

3)  Sources for software, hardware, inventory tags/labels, etc

4)  A Timeline for all the steps

5)  Lots of people to help – you can’t do this all by yourself

As part of the planning phase you will want to Gather data about your theatre:

•  How many productions do you do each year?

•  How many students are involved in all aspects of the productions?

•  How much revenue do you bring in from ticket sales or donations?

•  How are community members involved?  Do you do shows for other schools or organizations?

You want to show that your theatre is very active and productive and that many students and community members benefit from theatre.

Write down the data you have gathered ...  the # of productions, # of students, etc.
List the Benefits of having an inventory

An inventory will provide:

1.  An accurate count of your costumes, props etc.


2.  The ability to search for costumes / props


3.  The ability to plan and prepare for productions knowing what you have


4.  A way to set up a rental program – to generate revenue and track where everything is

5.  The opportunity to teach students new skills

Write down the benefits of having an inventory
Skills for students to learn

•  Computer Skills (Learning the database, using a barcode scanner)

•  Costume and Props/Sets knowledge

•  Inventory management  (applying tags, data entry, running reports)

•  Customer relations (helping with rentals)

•  Photography (setting up a photo station,

             managing photo files.)

Create The Inventory Project Plan



•Inventory Tags & Labels


•Storage Facilities


As you create your plan and proposal - think of each of these areas:

❖  People


People are the most important part of the plan.  Who is in charge?  What staff, volunteers, or students are available?  How much time can they commit to the project?  When are they available?  How much training will they need?  Who in the organization has to approve the project?  What do you need to convince them to allocate the funds and resources?


❖  Software 


How will you store your records?  In a Database or Spreadsheet?  What functions do you want in the software?  Do you want to include photos?  Who do you want to have access to the data?  How much control do you want to have? 


❖  Identifying Tags / Labels


Identifying tags for costumes and labels for props, accessories, shoes, and equipment are needed to track each item.  What kind and how many of each kind do you need?  What numbering system do you want to use - sequential numbers or letter and numbers combined? Do you want barcodes?  Do you have the tools to apply tags to garments (small iron, sewing machine) ?

❖  Computer Equipment   

PC or Mac or In-the-Cloud??  Do you want to share it on a network? Do you need access from multiple devices and locations?  How much IT support do you have (try to be realistic) ? Can you get more IT support if you need it?   If your tags have barcodes you will need a scanner for each computer.  What kind of barcode scanner do you want? 

❖  Storage

How are things organized now?  How would you like to change it?  Do you need more racks, shelves, bins, ladders ?? Are you planning a move soon?  Does your storage area meet fire codes?

❖  Budget 

All parts of the plan require money.  Where can you get the money - existing budget, grant, donations, rental payments ??  How much do you need?  When will the funds be available?  How can you bring in more income to support the inventory system?  Look at the Resource Guides for a sample budget / Excel file: for a sample budget.

Make decisions and stick to them !

•Investigate which software / database to use

•Test a variety of tags and labels from different manufacturers

•Check if your current computers meet your needs – if not find new / donated computers

•Buy the software, hardware, tags & labels, barcode scanners, etc

Become the Expert !

You can't do this all yourself !   You need help from students, voluteers, paid staff, family - anyone you can find.

Before you can teach others how to inventory your costumes and props/sets - you need to become the expert first.  The more you know - the more people you can train.  

  • Take time to learn the software that you purchase.  Read the User Guide and  any Resource material you can find.

  • Take 25 or so tags / labels and apply them to your garments / props

  • Practice using the barcode scanner.

  • Make decisions of where the tags should go on each garment type

  • Practice taking photos, set up a photo station (see Resource Guides for several guides to help you with your photos.

  • Make a floor plan of where the costumes are / will be stored

Train Everyone

•Gather your training materials and have them available

•Download the Data Entry Guidebook to help teach students / volunteers about costume style, design features and fabric


•Set aside training time for each new student/volunteer


•Teach everyone how the tags should be applied and where the tags should go.  The goal is consistency !


•Reward your staff / volunteers !  Tell them how much you appreciate their hard work.

Look critically at your storage area

•Decide how it is best to store your items – on hangers, plastic bins, hooks on the wall, shelves …  The way you have it now may not be how you want it in the future.

•Calculate how many racks, bins, shelves you need.


•Review the bins.  Most costume shops have a variety of shapes and sizes.  Consider getting new bins that will stack together.


•Know your local fire department regulations.  Keep ample space between costumes and the walls and ceilings.  Have wide walkways.


•Review your stock – are there things to get rid of?  Ask yourself  ... "Is it distressed or just completely worn out?? "  "Is the smell really going to come out in the wash???"

Set up a schedule and get started !

Set up a TimeLine with the following dates when:


•  The money is available to purchase what you need

•  The hardware and software will be installed

•  The inventory tags and labels will have arrived

•  The storage area is cleaned and ready to work in

•  The Inventory Work Station is set up

•  There are no major productions/builds happening in the costume / props shop

*  Contact your staff, students and volunteers to determine their availability

*  Make and publish the schedule so everyone (management, principals, staff, volunteers and students) all know what is happening when

*  Review the Resource Guide (website) on “Suggestions for a Costume Inventory Day” to help you decide how to prepare for the day you start inventorying everything.

Things to include in your Proposal:

•Do the Numbers – how many productions, how many students are served, how many costumes, props you have

•Outline the Benefits  - to the school/theatre, students, community

•Show your plan – what hardware/software you need, what tags to use, a priority list of what costumes/props will be inventoried first, explain what training is available and how everyone will be trained

•Show your schedule – list of people committed to help, time line when everything will be ready, a calendar of the work days

•Show your budget – prepare a spreadsheet (like example)

•Summarize why you need this project now, benefits vs costs, and your willingness and commitment to do the project

Creating an Inventory your theatre is a lot of work - but you, your students and the school / theatre will really benefit !
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